Longtime WTHR-TV political reporter Kevin Rader says he picks up “ripples” on Twitter or Facebook about posts that are gaining steam, getting retweets and likes, that make him take notice to a certain policy or official’s statement. “It’s almost like an immediate Nielsen Report that comes to your desk every day that you can look at and say, ‘Oh, this is interesting … or this is interesting,’ ” he notes.
John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, believes social media is “big” for candidates and officeholders – and not just in a reactionary sense. “You have to think about how people are receiving news. It’s not just one way (traditional media) or the other (social media). You’ve got to have the proactivity to get out there and make sure it’s communicated every single way and exhaust every possible resource.”
His counterpart for the Republican Party, Tim Berry, says “The advantage of social media is that you can talk directly to your constituents. You’re not taking through Kevin or the Indianapolis Star. You’re talking directly to your constituents and then that is shared – your perspective is shared. And that’s what people sometimes miss through the use of social media – the opportunity to talk directly to your intended target.”
But there does need to be caution with social media usage, according to Andrew Downs, IPFW political science professor and director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics.
“It has got to be part of an overall strategy. You can’t ignore it; you’ve got to be present. But if you let it dominate, which it’s easy to do, you will lose. It doesn’t play that big of a role yet,” he asserts.
Rader offers another example of how Twitter, for example, has changed his job.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated by people who have now realized, ‘Look, I don’t have to make a statement to the media. All I have to do is Tweet a little something out and I don’t have to answer a question.’ You find yourself thinking, ‘Oh boy, so are we really serving the people sitting at home?’ You don’t get any follow-up, anything in-depth and it’s become acceptable now.”
But what can the media do? It has little choice but to cover it. And as Downs quips, “Yes, you don’t have to answer questions. That’s the beauty of social media (for candidates).”
Read much more from this group in the September-October edition of BizVoice magazine, where they discuss the climate in the state and what to look for on Election Day. A related article in the same issue focuses on the use of “digital first” technology to reach voters.